New company takes over Horizon Foods poultry plant

More than six months after the former Horizon Foods plant at 2201 W. Second Ave. closed its doors, a new company has acquired the facility and plans to begin processing spent hens in January.

Summit Poultry Inc., an Arkansas corporation, will operate the facility. According to company official Harry Schmid, the company has already hired 100 workers, with about 90 percent of them having formerly worked for Horizon.

Lou Ann Nisbett, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, introduced Schmid during a meeting ofthe Economic Development Corporation of Jefferson County, the group that administers the three-eighths-cent sales tax approved by county voters for economic development.

Schmid said the ownership group is composed of investors mostly from California and most of them are involved in meat production and distribution.

He said the employees currently working at the facility are performing maintenance and clerical duties while the company waits for its first shipment of spent hens, which are due the first full week of January.

“We’ve got 20- to 30,000 birds coming in so that we can get the new people trained because the week after that we’re going to be even busier,” Schmid said.

In addition, Schmid said Summit Poultry will be making some changes to the facility, including a way to reduce the water consumed at the plant, and a machine that will clean that water before it goes into the city’s sewer system.

“We hope to get that machine in place in February,” Schmid said.

He anticipated that employment at the facility will reach 180 within a year, and in three to five years, hopes to be able to double that figure.

“If we can get the birds, 360 is not out of the question,” Schmid said.

In March 2012, the tax board approved a $329,000 loan to Horizon Foods to purchase refrigeration equipment, and Horizon was to be given $1,000 credit for each new job it created, up to a maximum of 329 jobs over a five-year period.

During the corporation meeting Tuesday, Chairman George Makris said a letter of default on that loan has not been sent to a representative of Horizon Foods yet, and the attorney for the corporation will have to determine if the refrigeration equipment the loan paid for belongs to the corporation.

If so, the corporation could simply transfer the incentive package to Summit Poultry rather than having to prepare a new contract. Either way, there will be no new money involved.

Nisbett said she had been working with Schmid for several months as he and his group were working to acquire the facility, and predicted more announcements about new and expanding industries next year.

“I believe 2014 is going to be great for the county,” she said.